photo by @nattiedoes
Mana is an enigma. In Japan, he’s known for founding the influential visual kei band, Malice Mizer, for starting his own line of Gothic Lolita clothing, Moi-même-Moitié, and for forming his solo music project, Moi dix Mois. In keeping with his mysterious image, he rarely gives interviews, and when he does, he whispers his answers to an associate, who then answers on his behalf. Only twice has he been known to speak, and both times, the answers were brief and blink-and-you-miss them phrases.
So, when I requested an interview with him, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get it. I didn’t. But I was able to attend his panel, at which I also wasn’t able to ask him questions because all the questions had been submitted ahead of time at the Moi-même-Moitié booth in the Exhibition Hall. You also won’t be seeing many photos from @nattiedoes in this post because they weren’t allowed (except for when it was over, when she took the photo at the top of this post). Nor were video and audio recordings.
What I’m left with is my own recollections and the notes that I furiously scribbled and then copied out later. I also have the recollections of @nattiedoes. If you were at that panel, feel free to leave your recollections in the comments.
Since we were covering the panel as press, we didn’t have to wait in the labyrinthine line that snaked its way near the wall opposite the door to the panel. Instead, we got to wait outside the door with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) people, though that caused much confusion at first about where we needed to stand. I have to say, the ADA people were lovely. One of them was pushing around a kid in a stroller, who was dressed like Gackt.
Except for us, it was pretty easy to tell who was there for the panel, as most of the crowd were wearing Gothic Lolita clothing, making this one of the most stylish panels I’ve attended. Since we were separated from the rest of the crowd by a hallway, we did keep having to shoo away people who lined up behind us and weren’t ADA or press (we were the only press). And, of course, since Mana is an important person, the panel started ten minutes late.
Once the doors finally opened, we sat in the second row from the front, to the right of the center aisle. Then @nattiedoes asked about photos, realized she wouldn’t be taking any, and had someone from the regular line with an awesomely colorful dress (that she made herself!) sneak past us to sit in our row. Since most everyone else around us were wearing muted tones, the splash of color was welcome. Plus, she was good company.
There were five seats on the dais. The first three were empty, the moderator sat in the next one, and the final seat (on the right and closest to the screen seen above) was occupied by a Japanese man who didn’t speak the entire time, but may have been the liaison to the Japanese guests at the convention, as I’ve seen him at previous cons.
The panel started not with Mana, but with his associates. They sat in the far left seats. Both women, the first one was Japanese, while the second associate looked more European (French?). She did most of the speaking, so I suspect she might be in charge of the English branch of the website. I have no idea because I didn’t write it down.
I do wish I’d looked around more so as to relate to you all the clothing styles people were wearing, but as mentioned, most of the crowd wore Gothic Lolita outfits, including the associates, who wore white with their black. I can tell you that it was a very enthusiastic crowd. The first part of the panel allowed questions from the audience, with answers that were often met with oohs and aahs, sometimes with joy, and always with applause. I felt like I was surrounded by the cult of Mana, a benevolent religion that loves lace, is ecstatic about eyelashes, and wishes for sizes that fit American figures better. Its prophets preach what the people want to hear, but many of the answers given by the Moi-même-Moitié employees and Mana via the Mana Whisperer were noncommittal or open to interpretation. I found it fascinating. If you want to learn how to craft a public image, this panel was a masterclass.
For example, nothing was promised one way or the other with the employees’ Q&A. When asked if they would be adding sizes for American audiences, the answer was that they are “trying to get” bigger sizes for American audiences. In the same way, they are “looking into” manufacturers for popular Lolita fashion items like bags and lace headdresses. Even when it came to shoes, which they said they “won’t be doing right now,” the answer implies that they might do shoes later. And, in a precursor of Mana’s behavior, the employee at the end of the dais discussed her answers quietly with the other employee instead of answering the questions herself.
More examples of indirect answers: the woman who brought her child asked if they would be releasing a line of Gothic Lolita children’s clothes (squeals from the audience). The answer was that “we’d like to release children’s clothes, but adult clothes are the focus right now.” In a similar vein, there are “no plans to open a physical shop,” they would like to “bring the brand back to its glory,” and “Mana-san would like to release eyelashes.” In fact, the only question they answered directly was one about what kind of accessory they personally like best. They answered that they both love original lace.
Before Mana came out, the moderator announced that no photos or visual or audio recordings would be allowed (we’d be kicked out). We then had to make noise for him to appear. After we made enough noise, the lights dimmed and Moi dix Mois music played (or perhaps it was Malice Mizer). There was a black curtain to the left side of the screen (closest the panelists): Mana appeared from behind that curtain, stood behind his seat, bowed elegantly with his right arm held horizontally across his waist, and sat down. He wore a black corset with black platform shoes and some sort of flowy pants. His shirt was frilly in the center, possibly with frills at the ends of the sleeves (we couldn’t remember, but they weren’t conspicuous), and white with thin, vertical stripes. On his chest, he wore a large, sparkly cross. His face was covered in white makeup with black eyeliner, and he had David-Bowie-from-Labyrinth hair, but black instead of blond. On each of his fingers, he wore large rings, possibly all gold, possibly all silver, possibly a mix. Every time he answered a question, he leaned over to the Moi-même-Moitié associate next to him (the one who’d answered during the first part of the panel) and faced his right palm toward us with spread fingers, covering his mouth (and just in case that wasn’t enough to prevent us from hearing him, his music played softly in the background the entire time). She then translated his answer on a piece of paper and responded for him.
The questions were asked by the moderator from notecards. Many of the questions were addressed to “Mana-san” (formal) or “Mana-sama” (most formal). Here, then, is the gist of the questions asked and Mana’s answers (Questions and comments from the moderator are in bold. If the question or comment from the moderator wasn’t from a notecard, I’ve put an “M” in front of it):
What is your favorite Malice Mizer song and album?
His favorite song is “Bel Air” (cheers from the audience), and his favorite album is Bara No Seidou. (more cheers)
How do you feel having led and supported the EGC (elegant gothic clothing) boom?
He feels extremely proud and happy to have been a part of it.
Have you ever thought of releasing a self biography?
There actually were plans to do one 5-6 years ago, but it didn’t happen. It would be really great to release one someday.
Mana-sama, what inspires your fashion choices?
For daily fashion choices, there is no particular inspiration.
What is the future for the brand and for Lolita fashion?
He hopes that it becomes more and more popular.
What do you think of older people wearing Lolita fashion?
He thinks you can wear Lolita fashion at any age beautifully. (big cheers)
What do you see the future of Moi-même-Moitié being in 5-10 years?
He hopes to protect fashion, and he wants all of us to help him.
What do you think of the evolution of Lolita fashion over the past 19 years?
He is going to pass on that answer.
M: How about this one?
(She shows them both a card, they nod their heads)
What is your opinion of Goth Lolita people who have tattoos?
When the tattoo is for him, he feels really happy. Otherwise, you can do as you like.
M: Does anyone in the crowd have a tattoo of Mana?
Woman in front of us: I have one of the Moi-même-Moitié logo.
(Mana looks over at her, sees it, and gives a thumbs up while slightly nodding. I look over to see if the woman has passed out, but luckily she was sitting when he complimented her.)
Mana-sama, how often do you get a haircut? And do you style your own hair?
(Mana makes scissor gestures with his fingers through his hair. Audience chuckles.)
He cuts and styles his own hair. As to how often he gets a haircut, he gets it whenever he wants one.
Where did you go in Seattle? Do you like coffee? What did you eat recently? (chuckles from the audience)
Mana-sama went to the Starbucks Reserve and found out he likes Starbucks coffee in the states. (Pause) He had clam chowder and found that he really liked it.
What is your skin care regimen?
He doesn’t really have a skin-care regimen. He often uses all-in-one products.
M: You have such great skin! I wish I had skin like yours.
(Did I mention his face is painted white? What skin is she looking at?)
What is your favorite Moi dix Mois song?
His favorite song is “Dialogue Symphony” because it was their first one.
What was the inspiration for Moi dix Mois?
When he founded Moi-même-Moitié, he was interested in what kind of music the dress designs would make. He created Moi dix Mois to express these dress designs through music. When he returns home, he’ll start recording soon.*
What Western artists have inspired you?
When he was a teenager, he was very influenced by Motley Crüe and Slayer.
When is Moi dix Mois coming to the U.S.?
He can’t make any promises, but he would like to make it happen at some point.
Can you visit the U.S. more? Have you thought about opening a store?
He wants to come back soon. He has no plans to open a store.
What inspires you the most?
He is most inspired by cooking. He likes to combine music and cooking.
What is your opinion of Twin Peaks?
He likes David Lynch, but he hasn’t seen Twin Peaks.
How did you come to record the Hatsune Miku snowbird song?
Miku-san asked him to go out drinking and invited him to do this.
How are you like Hatsune Miku vocally?
Mana-san says they have a similar image color.
(I don’t know what that means, either.)
What is your greatest achievement?
When we (Malice Mizer) did the concert at the Budokan. It was the biggest show ever at that location.
What did you think about your first fashion show in the U.S.?**
Everyone was really kind, so he would like to do it again.
M: How’d he feel about modeling in the fashion show?
He wants to thank you for your support and kind words. It means that Moi-même-Moitié can do more.
We thought he’d finished answering the question, but he continued whispering to his associate, and then she added the following: “Mana-san feels inspired to do more due to the kindness of people here.”
Then he stood up, bowed from the waist, and disappeared behind the screen again. With that, the panel was over.
POSTSCRIPT: In case you’re wondering what questions I wanted to ask Mana, here they are:
1. You write music, choreograph performances, design clothing, and play a variety of instruments. How do each of these activities influence and/or connect to each other?
2. You helped form two visual kei bands, Malice Mizer and Moi dix Mois. How would you describe visual kei to a non-Japanese person?
3. What musicians or composers have influenced you and your sound?
4. Why did you decide to open your fan club to international fans, and do you think other Japanese artists should do the same?
5. Would you mind discussing the influence French culture has on you, particularly as it relates to your clothing line and Moi dix Mois?
6. What can you tell us about the Moi-même-Moitié tea party?*** Where did the idea for the tea party come from?
7. What new projects are you working on?
8. What would you like your legacy to be?
9. You don’t often speak in interviews. What is the reason behind this?
*I found this answer to be the single most fascinating response he gave. And it was direct!
**Mana put on a fashion show at Sakura-Con this year and modeled as part of the show, but neither of us were able to attend.
***This was another event @nattiedoes and I didn’t attend, mainly because all guests had to wear a piece of clothing from the Moi-même-Moitié line.